UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said Monday that the draft legislation introduced by parliamentarians in Somalia must not be enacted as it violates international human rights norms, including legitimizing child marriage. “This new draft legislation would represent a serious step backward for the rights of victims of sexual violence in Somalia, in particular women and girls,” says the statement. She further warned that the passing of this bill would send “a worrying signal to other States in the region.”
To address the issue of sexual and gender-based violence in the country, a comprehensive Sexual Offences Bill was drafted in 2018. It had taken five years to draft the bill, and it was passed unanimously by the Somali Council of Ministers. However, the bill was returned by the speaker of the House of People, which suggested substantive changes to the bill.
Now, in place of the 2018 bill, the parliamentarians have put forward the Sexual Intercourse Related Crimes Bill. Bachelet said this new draft bill is flawed on many fronts and is therefore highly problematic. The draft bill contains vague definitions of certain offenses and fails to penalize many substantive offenses. One of the provisions of the bill allows for the marriage of the minors at the maturation of an individual’s reproductive organs. This provision does not consider the age of the child. Bachelet said this is clearly in violation of international human rights standards. The procedural provisions of the legislation are also weak.
To combat these issues, Bachelet has urged the authorities to adopt the 2018 Sexual Offences Bill instead of the Sexual Intercourse Related Crimes Bill. She has further asked lawmakers to “put in place a comprehensive strategy and effective legislation to eliminate practices and harmful gender stereotypes that have a disproportionately negative impact on women and girls.”